The Editor's Electronic Toolbox
April 22, 2008
About a dozen South Bay BAEF members, mainly freelancers, engaged in a lively roundtable (actually square table) discussion on aspects of hardware and software as they relate to the editing profession.
As determined from a survey, the typical attendee's computer was less than 3 years old, had on average 1 GB of memory and between 50 and 200 GB disk space, and ran with 2-GHz CPUs, mostly of single-core type. Many were still using screens of 15 inches or less (although these were probably laptops) but a third of the group had monitors of 22 inches or larger and/or used multiple monitors. Most bought new computers every four years or so, often because of the need to run newer software or to obtain motherboard upgrades.
Those who had multiple computers often had them networked. Using an off-site storage service or just e-mailing files to your gmail account offered freelancers a cheap way to back up data. USB flash drives are also handy and affordable USB plug'n'play hard drives now exceed a terabyte of storage.
Varying the way one interfaces with one's computer has notable health benefits. Ergonomic keyboards, wireless and handed mice (e.g., as offered by Logitech), voice recognition software, and stylus input via PC tablets or add-on tablets were all discussed as means of reducing the potential for repetitive-motion-type injuries. Keyboards without number pads can also reduce the amount of reaching one does for the mouse.
Adobe-proficient Editors in Demand
Roughly half the users ran Mac OS with the remaining users running Windows, primarily XP. Virtually everyone used some version of MS Word as their word processor of choice (although discussion of Word's drawbacks also solicited some choice words). Framemaker was also mentioned. The most common additional applications were various Adobe products, including Acrobat (Reader and Pro) and Photoshop. Endnote was also touted as well as the shareware math typesetting program BaKoMa and Grahl's pdf Annotator, which allows you to mark up pdf files in sort of a hybrid online/on paper scheme.
Backward-compatibility issues with the latest versions of Word were of serious concern, with the new XML-based .docx file format being the prime culprit. Supposedly, there is a partial solution but any equations set in Equation Editor and certain other features will not translate. Lack of resolution of this compatibility issue may force users to upgrade to newer versions of Word while still maintaining older versions as well.
Although most publishers and editors use Word-based workflow schemes, there is a greater tendency in business to make use of in-house proprietary software or Adobe pdf-based workflow. In fact, Editcetera is currently getting more and more clients asking for Adobe-proficient editors.
The roles of editor and layout designer are also increasingly merging, with editors (especially for business clients) being required to have specific knowledge of layout programs such as Framemaker, Quark, and InDesign. InDesign also appears to be taking the lead away from Quark, further demonstrating the dominance of Adobe. Those editors who do rely on Word for layout should take advantage of the many templates offered on Microsoft's Web site.
The take-away lesson here is that in this globally integrated and rapidly evolving technological landscape, freelance editors, to stay competitive, need to at least know what software is out there or be proficient with several types, be vigilant about maintaining reasonably updated hardware, and be willing to offer clients more than one option to service their editorial needs.